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Hold the Cold—Working Out in Cold Could Backfire for Weight Loss

Mar. 10, 2015|706 views
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A new study has concluded that overweight people who work out in cold weather may experience a significant increase in appetite afterwards. Given that most overweight people who bother to brave the cold to exercise are probably doing so because they hope to lose weight, this strategy could backfire and trigger even more weight gain.

Of course, moving is always better than sitting, regardless of the temperature. But people who are dedicated to losing weight might want to find a warmer place to work out during harsh winter weather. Although the study was small, and the “cold” temperatures were well above freezing (8°C, or about 46°F), brisk walking in cool temperatures resulted in post-exercise spikes in various hormones involved in regulating appetite. Essentially, scientists worry that cold-weather workouts could erode dieting willpower.

In contrast, walking at room temperature (20°C or 68°F) did not spark changes in appetite. I don’t know about you, but here in Minnesota in the average winter, 46°F would be a balmy day in the park. After subzero weather, I’d expect to see runners in shorts if the temps climbed back up to 46°F. Nevertheless, this kind of cold evidently triggers hunger that could sabotage weight-loss efforts.

Subjects were older folks (average age 50) with a relatively high body mass index (BMI). Even though the average increase in additional calories consumed was about 100 calories, that could be enough to thwart weight loss. The findings were frankly surprising. Many people assumed that exercising in cold burns more calories, to maintain body temperature. In fact, it appears that the body doesn’t have to work as hard to keep you cooled down. 

Crabtree DR1, Blannin AK. Effects of Exercise in the Cold on Ghrelin, PYY, and Food Intake in Overweight Adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2015 Jan;47(1):49-57. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000391.


Tags:  prevention, exercise, weight loss, body image